The Heiress: An Heir of Greatness

         Many times when books are made into movies, the book is released to come to life and take flight. This is my distinct feeling on Henry James's celebrated 1880 novel, Washington Square. This book was very well written, but I did not feel that I had a good grasp on each character and their intentions until I viewed The Heiress, directed in 1949 by William Wyler. Two of the main features of this film that struck a chord with me were the development and interactions between the characters themselves and the authenticity of the setting.

         I absolutely adored Olivia de Havilland in the role of Catherine Sloper for this film. Though the part of Catherine is to be a plain one, I thought that de Havilland did not let the character's plainness become a bore; she made it engrossing and a joy to watch. De Havilland let her character have a charming air about her and came across as a rather attractive woman. Throughout the film I saw many loveable qualities show through her character, such as her interactions with other people in a scene and her facial expressions in general. It is apparent from their first meeting that Catherine is starving for approval from Morris; this is clearly seen just by looking at her eyes. De Havilland displays an array of emotions in this piece, from cheerful to devastated.

         I found many different moments displayed by de Havilland in different scenes that made this film so enjoyable for me. One very sweet moment I recall is just after Morris proposes: he walks out the door and Catherine shuts it behind him and just stands there, basking in the moment smiling. This part is interesting and it perhaps foreshadows the ending when Catherine and Morris are once again on opposite sides of the door. Another scene I found particularly pleasant is Catherine's monologue about Morris to her Aunt Lavinia. Morris is supposed to be on his way so they can elope together, and Catherine is talking about how much he really loves her and everything about her. I could really identify with her in this scene and feel what she was feeling. In this same scene, Catherine realizes that Morris is not going to elope with her, and that heartbreaking realization climbs across her face. She switches from being so hopeful about her and Morris' future to a sudden devastation that hits before she bursts into tears.

         Montgomery Clift, who played the part of Morris Townsend in this film, did an excellent job of making this character an exceedingly complex one. At the start of the film the character of Morris was surprisingly charming, attractive, likeable, and kind. Clift was so efficient at keeping the audience guessing when it came to Morris and his intentions. At times his character seemed completely genuine when he spoke to Catherine, I wanted to believe everything he was whispering in her ears, and I desperately wanted them to end up together. Clift made this character an easy one to fall in love with and an easy one to fall out of love with. By the end you still really want to like Morris, but it was easy to be glad when Catherine ignores and walks past the sounds of the pounding door and the sound of her name being shouted repeatedly by Morris.

         The opening scene for this film is extremely pleasant; and it sets a very agreeable tone to the entire film. The camera pans across a quiet, beautiful part of lower Manhattan with people walking past and all the houses in a neatly painted row. When I saw this opening to the movie it made me want to live there, which had me captivated by the start of the picture. The picture perfect set inside Dr. Sloper's home was also quite lovely. Everything in the home had its place and it looked like a genuine abode for normal people of that time to reside in. Each actor interacted with the set as if it were their actual home; they all seemed comfortable with the space, never giving the impression that it was a foreign sound stage that they worked on nine to five. Another setting that seemed down to earth and realistic was the party scene, where nothing was extravagant; it just looked like I imagine a party would have looked in those days with a tiny cramped dance floor and people standing around talking and enjoying each other's company.

         I applaud this film for its marvelous storyline, dynamic cast, authentic set, and overall appeal. I would recommend this picture to anyone who likes a gripping tale complete with a love story and an ending with a twist.

Lydia Davis

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